Picture: ISTOCK
Picture: ISTOCK

Do you want to know why we need International Women’s Day and why we still bother with March 8? Consider these two well-timed law stories.

On March 9, Robin Camp resigned as a judge. In 2014 this SA lawyer, who emigrated to Canada where he was later elevated to a seat on the federal judiciary, had asked a rape complainant why she couldn’t “just keep her knees together”.

His comments prompted a 15-month investigation by the Canadian Judicial Council and on March 9 the council announced its conclusion: Camp’s conduct so undermined public confidence that his removal was “warranted”. Within hours, Camp quit.

She became victim to ... unjustified secondary harassment at the hands of [Liberty]

In that rape case, Camp had also said that “some sex and pain sometimes go together” and “that’s not necessarily a bad thing”.

Though it is extremely unlikely that any local judge would make such remarks, you have to wonder about the views of SA companies. Are they serious when it comes to fighting sexual harassment in the workplace? Not even significant court-ordered penalties under the Employment Equity Act (EEA) seem to have convinced employers of their obligations.

Ineffective response

Latest to join the league of pathetic responders is the Liberty Group. On March 7 the labour appeal court confirmed that Liberty must pay R250,000 in compensatory damages to a woman, 10 years on the staff, who left over sexual harassment problems.

The woman claimed harassment by her manager, Andrew Mosesi, saying he touched her inappropriately and pushed his tongue into her mouth. Though she tried to get help, the response from management was so ineffective that she resigned. Her team leader persuaded her to withdraw the letter so that Liberty could investigate, but when nothing further happened she resigned again a few weeks later and launched an unfair discrimination dispute.

At the labour court, Liberty’s approach to the claim by its former staffer was for its legal representative to bully and harangue her. Here is how the labour appeal court characterised Liberty’s behaviour in the trial court: “From the record, what is apparent is a vicious and sustained attack launched by [Liberty], through its counsel, on [the former staffer’s] person, her motives and credibility and the reliability of her evidence over some three days of unacceptably harsh, cruel and vicious cross-examination. The result was that she became victim to unwarranted and unjustified secondary harassment at the hands of [Liberty].” The appeal judges said it had been so bad that they had “taken up the issue” with counsel at the start of the appeal.

The labour court hearing, as it emerges from the appeal judges’ summary, sounds rather like Camp’s rape case, where the woman was blamed. Liberty said the claim was “meritless”, that the woman brought the claim “for the money” and that what happened between her and her boss was “effectively consensual”. Liberty even asked for a punitive cost order against her, saying her claim was “frivolous and vexatious”.

In the appeal Liberty went even further: the woman was “at best psychologically disturbed and at worst a pathological liar”, the company argued. But the appeal judges, noting the group’s inadequate workplace response and its later hostile defence to her claim, upheld the finding in her favour, ordering Liberty to pay costs and the damages award.

For all the protection the woman received at work, the EEA, now almost 20 years old, might as well never have existed.

As to the future — given Liberty’s lack of response at the workplace, followed by its three-day “sustained attack” on the woman in court — would any staffer ever risk reporting sexual harassment to the company again?

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